One of the participants in the Meisner Acting Lab that finished Phase One yesterday shared an entry from her journal. I liked her perspective so much that I asked if she would mind recording it to share on my website and she generously agreed. Here are Hannah's thoughts on the structure of the Meisner work:
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My recent experiences auditioning and giving advice to friends who are starting to audition made me realize I should share a few audition tips for those of us who get nervous.
1. Choosing a Monologue
I'm just zeroing in on nerve-busting strategies here. Obviously you must still take into account all the normal stuff like appropriateness of genre, range, length, context, your personal connection to the piece etc etc.
If you've done any work with me you'll have heard me say that you need to know your text inside out and back to front. This is always true but it is especially important in the context of an audition. To test if you know your piece well enough try it while doing something that requires both your body and brain like a choreographed dance or gardening. If you cannot simultaneously say your words and do the activity then you don't know the piece well enough yet. In addition to knowing your words inside out, it is also helpful to know yourself. Everyone is different. How do your nerves manifest? At an audition what does your body typically do? What mannerisms and personality traits surface? And how can you use this knowledge to your advantage?
Now, I'm NOT saying that you should choose something about a nervous actor and just ride your nerves in the audition. There are so many reasons why that doesn't work. But it IS a lot easier to match your physical energy and subtly change it than is is to do a complete 180 against what your body is giving you. You'll always have to ground your energy, personalize and get into character but if your nervous self is highly strung perhaps a neurotic or desperate person would be a better choice than a depressive or zen-master. That way you can use your adrenaline engine instead of spending all your energy trying to smother it. Similarly, if you become paralyzed with nerves and want to crawl into a hole a hide then perhaps you want a less physical character, look for something a bit more contained.
The hardest part about auditioning, especially if you are choosing to work with your nerves instead of against them, is staying/getting grounded. Most of us when we're nervous let that hysterical energy bring our centre of gravity way up into our shoulders. But we'll address that a little later in the series. Right now just think about the character you've chosen or are going to choose and how you can make the physical manifestation of your nerves work for you.
"Winter is coming" as they say. Are you prepared?
If you're like me and you walk down the street singing a lot you'll have noticed the change in the weather in Vancouver, BC. My throat does not like these temperatures (OK I know they're not that low yet, I'm a ninny, I admit it) and it closes up in terror when I breathe in that icy ether.
So it's just going to get even colder, what can we do about it?
1. Wear a scarf outside. A warm neck is a relaxed neck. Shoulders too. The last thing you want is residual tension from the weather!
2. Warm ups are always important, but even more so in winter. Your warm up is there to WARM up your throat. If you don't usually warm up (wrist slap for you) or you usually only do a quick one, take a bit more time and be a bit more gentle with yourself at the outset.
3. Let that air in. I know, it's cold, your body doesn't want to, but breath is still of the utmost importance and skimping on an inhalation is not the answer. You might unconsciously breathe more shallowly in winter. Make it conscious and allow the breath to travel at least all the way into your belly (Or deeper! If you haven't read the Go Deeper Tip Of the Week, make that your next stop). Remember that breath is the fuel for the sound: less breath, less sound and less vocal range.
Today's tip is a day late because I was writing an exam yesterday. BUT writing the exam provided me with this week's tip. Funny how these things work out.
Today's tip: Work hard. Prepare. Then let it all go and trust!
This advice applies to performance of any type: acting, singing, corporate presentations, academic exams, the whole kit and caboodle. It's an effective process. And yesterday, getting ready to sit down for my exam I heard Larry Silverberg's voice in my head saying "Trust the preparation!" and I realized that I learned how to approach exams, job interviews and work presentations many, many years ago when I was just a wee young thing at speech and drama classes!
I'm going to use the actors process to illustrate what I mean, but you can apply this to anything.
The actor works relentlessly through the rehearsal period. You review your script every night even when you know all the words, you do all the table work, you question and over-analyze everything, you try every possible combination you can think of in the scene study, you work towards exhaustion. And then, the day before the performance, you rest. You get enough sleep, you go for a walk, you clear your mind, you "forget" everything you've worked so hard on and you Trust. You trust the work you've done has seeped into your bones and you trust the techniques you've drilled yourself on have become muscle memory, you trust that you know the character inside and out and you stand in the wings waiting for your cue expectant, open and ready for anything. (Personally I often stand in the wings realizing I don't know what my first line is, but I've learned to enjoy that, it has always been there when the time comes.)
Trusting yourself on stage allows you to surrender to the moment, to your partner and to the situation in front of you so that you are truly present and alive when it matters most. If you're holding your lines in your head or thinking about your blocking or your emotional journey or (god forbid) what the audience must be thinking or whatever your particular "control habit" is, your performance will be wooden and stale. Never mind upping the anxiety scale to the point of stage fright: sweats, shakes and stammers! It is only by letting go of everything that you can make yourself available to the fullness of your experience and knowledge.
And this applies as much to cramming for an exam or preparing for a presentation to the board as it does to acting. Work hard, know your material inside out and then let it all go. Float and enjoy the mastery of your infinite potential.
Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.